After a brief hiatus as a print publication – since the August 2010 issue it had existed only as a website – The American Conservative is back with a December print edition. Founded in 2002 by, among others, inveterate Israel-bashers Pat Buchanan and Taki Theodoracopolous, TAC from its inception raised high the banner of paleoconservatism and isolationism, taking particular relish in attacking both neoconservativism and various Israeli government officials and policies.
TAC quickly became a home for chronic critics of Israel on both the left and the right, and rare was the issue that failed to contain at least one screed from the likes of John Mearsheimer or Justin Raimondo or Uri Avnery or Philip Weiss or Juan Cole – or of course Buchanan or Taki or Scott McConnell, the magazine’s first editor who over the years would serve the publication in a variety of roles.
McConnell’s political evolution is the first thing the Monitor would think of whenever anyone mentioned The American Conservative. New Yorkers may remember McConnell from his work back in the 1990s at the New York Post, first as a columnist and then, for a period of time immediately following the late Eric Breindel’s promotion up the corporate ladder, as the paper’s editorial-page editor.
In those years McConnell’s loyalties seemed to be firmly in the neoconservative camp. In addition to the neoconservative tone that marked his writing, the McConnell of that era wrote repeatedly of the intellectual debt he owed Commentary, the flagship journal of neoconservatism.
But McConnell’s outlook began shifting over time, starting with increasingly vocal denunciations of U.S. immigration policy (he was alarmed by what he called “the Latin Americanization of the United States”) that presaged an overall shift in his worldview and in fact led to his dismissal by the Post in 1997.
McConnell eventually resurfaced as a columnist for the freebie New York Press, where he made the new direction of his political thinking strikingly clear, regularly championing isolationism and describing U.S. foreign policy – “cruise missiles [fired] promiscuously all over the globe” – in terms strongly reminiscent of the very leftists he once vilified.
The new McConnell even appeared to harbor retrospective doubts about the American position in the cold war, as indicated by the following representative passage from one of his columns (italics added): “… if Communism really menaced the democratic West as much as the neoconservatives claimed (a view I certainly shared at the time)…”
In yet another hint at what was to come, McConnell, responding to criticism of Patrick Buchanan voiced by New York Times columnist William Safire and others, charged that many in the media were guilty of “drive-by smears” intended “to link Buchanan with uneducated anti-Semites, those who dwell in the proverbial fever swamps of American life.”
McConnell eventually took the next logical step in his political progression, signing on with the 2000 Buchanan presidential campaign as a senior adviser. Bidding farewell to his readers, McConnell explained that he “jumped at the chance” to toil in Buchanan’s service because “to be part of such an enterprise, which could have a huge and lasting impact on the American political system, is one of the greatest privileges I can imagine.”
Just how far a road McConnell had traveled was nicely illustrated by the editors of The Weekly Standard, who quoted extensively from a notably unflattering column McConnell had written on Buchanan back in February 1992.
“There have been Buchanan references to ‘group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics’ among Holocaust survivors, and columns about how diesel fumes could not have killed hundreds of thousands of Jews at Treblinka,” wrote McConnell. “Needless to say, such assertions are offensive to Jews, to friends of Jews, and all others who believe that respect for historical truth is an important feature if civilized society….
“I find it unlikely that Buchanan doesn’t understand what he’s doing with such musings. No matter how sporadically he writes such things, they confer upon Buchanan a strangeness that makes it utterly impossible to take him seriously as a presidential candidate … his Holocaust stuff is far too weird. Pat for president? It’s not even worth discussing.”
By 2002, McConnell had become so identified with the Buchanan wing of conservatism that nary an eyebrow was raised at the news of his involvement in the creation of a new Buchananite magazine.
In the years since, he’s confirmed that an Israel-obsessed, Buchananite venue is indeed where he belongs. Here’s McConnell in a column last February: “[I]t is inconceivable that the United States would have attacked Iraq had Israel and its American friends argued against such an invasion.”
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org